I had a feeling I was going to love Hoi An. Every thing I had read online made it sound like my kind of place and every traveler I met raved about it. I was actually getting sick of hearing “oh my god, have you been to Hoi An yet?” There’s something so captivating about the town and its people. Its beauty alone is enough to make you fall in love instantly with its yellow buildings, the lanterns hanging from every tree, across every street, in shops and every hotel, the gorgeously decorated bridges and the brightly colored boats in the river. There’s art and creation on every corner and down every alley. I would guess there are probably over 100 different tailor shops waiting to make you any kind of tailor made clothing you desire. You can take a boat ride on the river paddled by an adorable Vietnamese man or woman with the traditional conical hats. Or you can be carted around like royalty on one of the hundreds of bicycle rickshaws. Whatever you choose to do here, you’re in true bliss.
Hoi An is a rather small town with roughly 120,000 residents. It’s basically smack dab in the middle of Vietnam on the coast, making it a great spot for travelers heading North to South or vice versa. It’s most well known for its ancient town which is well preserved and cut through with canals. It originally was a port city, which has left it with a diverse range of architecture and culture. Within the buildings and architecture you can see the mix of eras and styles from wooden Chinese shophouses and temples to colorful French colonial buildings, ornate Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese bridge and pagoda. In 1999 it was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.
When I first arrived in Hoi An I stayed at a homestay a little bit outside of town. It was a gorgeous home and the room was huge and comfortable. Luckily, they offer free bicycle rentals to get in and out of town on. My first day I arrived in the early afternoon and just wanted to get out to see Hoi An city, so I grabbed a bike and headed off. I rode around town for awhile going up and down the streets in awe. I was so tickled by the lanterns specifically. They are literally EVERYWHERE! It’s definitely the city of lanterns without a doubt. They come in every shape and color, big ones, little ones, patterned or not, and at night they light up and become even more beautiful.
The city has ample amounts of adorable French style cafes, traditional Vietnamese restaurants and any style of western food you could ever want. There are several bakeries, coffee joints, tea houses and bars as well. If you wander down any of the back alleys you’re bound to find some sort of hidden gem. I settled on a local Vietnamese restaurant with the classic tiny plastic chairs and no English on the menu and had an amazing meal of tofu, chili and lemongrass. Then I wandered into a coffee shop and drank coconut coffee while finishing up a blog. It was late at this point and past dark. I hadn’t really thought that through, being on a bicycle. I obviously didn’t know my way around and I have terrible night vision, plus no light on my bike. I can’t say it was the safest ride home, but it definitely wasn’t the most dangerous. If you read my last blog, then you know what I’m talking about. If you missed it then don’t worry, it’s right here.
The following morning I set out early to head back into town. I parked my bicycle and decided to see the town via foot. I walked down all the streets I had ridden down the day before snapping photos galore. This town is very instagrammable and you can tell by the amounts of photoshoots happening on every street corner. It’s just such a beautiful city. There’s something truly special and unique about it. Maybe its the well preserved history, and definitely the lanterns, that make it a place you never want to forget.
When I was wandering through a park I was stopped by a Vietnamese woman who asked if I would be interested in speaking English with her students. Of course I was more than happy too, I always am. I talked with the kids for almost an hour, answering the same questions from each of them. You would think that would get irritating, but for some reason it didn’t. Their little faces and how hard they were trying to concentrate made my heart melt. I loved every minute of it and when they were done with me, they gave me a gift of a notepad to thank me for my time. They took pictures with me before I said goodbye. As I walked away I cried tears of happiness because I was so touched by the experience. It was then that I decided I wanted to stay in Hoi An. I had been thinking about taking a job somewhere to slow down for a bit and this just felt right. Something about this place tugged at my heart.
I found a café for lunch and logged into my work away account. Work away is an online forum for hosts and volunteers to meet for potential work opportunities. I started searching the Hoi An area and found a few hosts I was interested in. One in particular really excited me because it was writing content for a webpage and helping to grow social media accounts, with a little bit of teaching English. It was so perfect for me and they had just posted the ad the day prior. I emailed right away and tried desperately not to get my hopes up. After lunch I decided I needed a foot massage and made that happen. I forget just how nice it is to have someone rub your feet, especially for me, since I’m always on them. Pure heaven people.
After my foot massage I wandered down to the market and was intersected by a very friendly woman who was extremely talented in the art of persuasion. I couldn’t help but follow her all the way to her family run tailor shop where I was showered with compliments, cold water and tons of books full of every type of clothing known to man kind. Catalogues full of short or long dresses, rompers, skirts, blouses, formal wear, business attire, coats, swimwear and everything else. As I went through the mountains of books the adorable and bubbly little thing next to me would pull out every thing I was interested in. She was extremely talented at reading me and picking up on my style and within a matter of minutes she had me in love with several different dresses (seven to be exact). Then she took me to the isles of fabrics with all kinds of colors and patterns, where together we picked out different ones for each of my dresses. Finally, she took all my measurements.
It was time to talk numbers and after some major haggling we settled on $250 for all seven dresses. Which is about $35 per dress, and is actually quite expensive, but they move so quickly that you don’t have time to think about how much you’re spending. They are tricky little masterminds, these adorable little Vietnamese woman. I obviously didn’t have that kind of money on me and just to make sure I didn’t change my mind, they insisted on personally driving me to my homestay to get the money. I see now why they do this because the entire ride I was thinking man that’s too much money and I should have asked around about good tailors first. But at that point I felt like I couldn’t back out, so I just went with it. I’ve never had anything tailor made before and the thought of having some dresses that fit like a glove really excited me. I paid half up front and was told to come back the next day to try everything on. Horrible photos because of lighting but here’s a few of the new dresses.
On my way out I was intersected again, this time by a woman who makes shoes and sandals. I think I felt so defeated at this point, by all these persuasive woman, that I easily caved. Plus, I was going to need some cute sandals to go with all these dresses, right? Anyways, this woman was really special. She runs her own shop alone and makes all the shoes herself. I found her very fascinating and tenacious. I didn’t ask her about her family but I could tell she works hard for a reason. She was very passionate about the design and truly wanted to make something special and unique for me. It wasn’t like the other women who just wanted to sell me some clothes. This woman also sold me an experience. She measured out my feet and we talked about fabrics and designs. She asked what I would be wearing them for and how much comfort I needed. She left no detail out. I loved her, she was amazing. $35 later I had myself a pair of custom made sandals that I could pick up the following day. The moral of this story is, I’m a giant sucker.
At this point I was running back to my bike with my eyes closed and ears plugged so I wouldn’t fall into any more tourist traps. When I got back to my homestay, I had an email back about the job opportunity, and I set up a meeting for the following morning. I still wasn’t trying to get my hopes up, but thinking about working lightened the blown of my recent spending’s. I decided it was a good idea to stay in for the night seeing as money was currently burning a hole in my pocket. I read my book until I fell asleep and all night I dreamt about working in Hoi An.
The following morning I cleaned myself up and put on my nicest pair of shorts and my cutest tank top. I actually brushed my hair for once, as well as put on some makeup for the first time since leaving America. I hopped on a bike and headed to a little coffee shop for my meeting. The guy I met with was not the owner. I don’t actually know what he does for the owner specifically, but whatever. We talked about what I would be doing, which would be writing new content for their webpage as well as rewriting current content that needed help. They also wanted help building their social media, mostly Instagram. Lastly, I would be teaching English a few nights a week to their staff. We talked for a bit and he said he would talk to the owner and get back to me.
I left and went to a different coffee shop to do some work. As I was working I got a message saying that they would like for me to come work with them and that the owner would like to meet me. We set up another meeting for that afternoon. I headed back to my homestay where he was going to pick me up and drive me to their Eco Village to meet the owner. The Eco Village was gorgeous and we talked about my arrangements. I would have my own room in their villa homestay and they would feed me lunch and dinner in exchange for my work for one month. And just like that I had a job. Well technically, I’d be a volunteer, because I wouldn’t actually be getting paid, but I wouldn’t be spending money either. To me that was like making 30 bucks a day, which is a small fortune here.
The following day I moved into Loc Phat Garden Villa Homestay where I would be spending the next 30 days. I had no idea what to expect of this experience or just how much work I would actually be doing. One thing I knew for sure was that it felt amazing to have my own room and that I didn’t have to pack my things for another month. Winning.
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